Burrell’s New Leaders Hunger For Entire Pie

Burrell’s new management team wants to brand the shop as a “thinking creative company” and pursue more accounts in their entirety, rather than just pitch for the African American portions, managing partner McGhee Williams said last week.

Tom Burrell, who started the agency with a single client (a chain of local nightclubs) and two employees in 1971, has built a blue-chip roster that includes McDonald’s and Toyota. But the shop does not have lead status on any of its accounts. Williams, 51, said its experience in segmented marketing and the African American arena should put it in the driver’s seat on brands. “So much of global culture is driven by African American culture,” she said.

There’s no new-business plan or rebranding strategy in place yet, Williams added. Ken Smikle, president of Target Market News, said the shop needs to “recategorize who they are and what they do” to grow beyond its ethnic niche.

Burrell, 65, has sold his 51 percent stake in the agency to former managing directors Williams and Fay Ferguson and new hire Steve Conner, who will run the shop in the new roles of managing partners. Publicis Groupe bought a 49 percent stake in 1999. Conner, 42, assumes creative leadership, while Ferguson, 52, will oversee account management and operational issues. Managing directors Mike Faems, who had steered creative, and operations chief Mike DiMaio are leaving the agency.

The shop claims about $200 million in billings, making it one of the country’s biggest African American shops.